Warren Haynes is a musician that is blessed in many ways. He has followings from his time playing in the Allman Brothers Band, and his own band, Gov’t Mule. He recently released a masterful solo album, Ashes and Dust, featuring Railroad Earth. Haynes has also appeared as a guest with many artists including a reformed Grateful Dead.
He is known for his expressive, emotive, and soulful forays on the fretboard that have audiences dancing, tearing up, or just smiling in wonder; but always enjoying what they hear.
We caught up with Haynes recently and discussed the upcoming “Last Waltz 40 Tour,” his career, his love of jazz and blues, and what he is up to these days.
Barry Kerzner for American Blues Scene:
The “Last Waltz 40 Tour” – How did those shows come about in New Orleans, and what are the plans for the tour the beginning of the new year?
The idea for it started when we did Last Waltz tribute in New Orleans during Jazz Fest. We put the Saturday night on sale and it sold out, and they added the Friday night, so we wound up doing two nights at the Saenger Theatre. It was a wonderful group of artists and musicians that we were able to assemble, to kind of pay tribute to The Band, but have its own personality.
So myself, Jamey Johnson, and Michael McDonald taking on the role of the three lead singers that The Band had, which was a unique part of their sound. The blending of those three voices singing harmony was a unique part of their sound as well. When the three of US sang together, it was a unique sound that … We had never sung together before and it felt good. A wonderful band that we put together with Don Was, Terence Higgins and John Medeski, and the horn section from Bonorama. And all the wonderful guests that we had! It was a great experience, so at the end of the two nights we just said, ‘Hey, we ought to take this on the road and at least do a few shows.’
At those two NOLA shows, you also did a tribute to Allan Toussaint.
Allan Toussaint did the horn charts for The Last Waltz. Since we were in New Orleans and he had just passed, it seemed like a good way to honor him as well. Of course, this Thanksgiving was the 40th anniversary of that performance.
With so many shows on the upcoming “Last Waltz 40 Tour,” and it being such a special event, do you anticipate a DVD set, or CD being issued? Or both?
I hope so. Yeah, it seems like it would be good to document this whole experience.
Absolutely! This year’s Christmas Jam features a stellar lineup.
Yeah, we’re very excited about the lineup, but every year, somehow turns out to be special and unique.
You also have the Mountain Jam coming up in the summer next year.
I’m not sure if I’m gonna be part of Mountain Jam this year. I think I have schedule conflicts for that.
Are you going to be doing your traditional New Year’s Eve concert with Gov’t Mule?
Yes, we’ll be doing the 30th and the 31st at The Beacon Theatre in New York City.
Playing there never gets old for you. You keep doing that and enjoying it.
The Beacon is home away from home. That’s the place that I’ve performed more than any other place. I really enjoy it, and it’s become tradition.
You did a lot of shows there with the Allman Brothers Band, so I would imagine it’s familiar to you.
Yeah. I love playing at the Beacon.
Speaking of the Allman Brothers: With your busy schedule and so many projects going on, have you done any projects with them, or do you stay in contact with them on a regular basis at all?
Some of us played together. Individually, I played with Derek with the Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Beacon few weeks back. Gregg and I were supposed to perform at this festival in West Virginia, but he wound up canceling for health reasons and we weren’t able to do that. I sat in with Butch and Jaimoe and Mark and Oteil, with that band called Les Brers; I sat in with them at the past Wanee Festival. That’s the extent of it for now.
Your schedule doesn’t seem like you have a spare minute! That’s good though; it keeps you busy.
Yes, I enjoy being busy!
How have the blues influenced you, and in what way is it special to you?
Well, blues is pretty much a part of everything that I do. You know, I’m a big fan of soul music, and blues, and rhythm and blues; rock music that came from blues music. It’s just such a big influence, it somehow stays around in whatever it is I’m doing. I’ve been such a student and such a fan of all the blues giants my entire life. That music is in my heart, and always will be.
Are there any of the old masters in particular that you are more found of, or do you just enjoy it all and take it in?
I was able to play with John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, and Albert Collins, and that was a big thrill for me. I never got to play with, or even hear Wolf or Muddy. I got to play with B.B. King, which was amazing. Of course, I played with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, which was great. All the giants are giants for a reason. They’re all people that I’ve listened to, thousands and thousands of times.
Son House is a big inspiration to me. That music is just such a a special place in our history, and all the music that we grew up on that came later, wouldn’t exist without that music.
Listening to you, it’s apparent that you listen to jazz; it comes through in your playing. What jazz in particular do you enjoy?
I’m a huge Wes Montgomery fan. Django Reinhardt. I love Jim Hall. I love some of the later stuff too, but I’m a real big fan of Miles Davis stuff through the years, Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins. Jazz is in my heart in a similar way. And there’s a connection obviously between the two.
You could never ‘over-study’ blues. You could never ‘over-study’ jazz. There’s so much great music out there to listen to and learn from, that you could never discover even a fraction of it.
I had the privilege of speaking to John Mayall not long ago, and we discussed how people try to pigeonhole music. ‘This is jazz, and that’s blues, and that’s not blues.’ He laughed and said, “Well, it will drive you crazy, if you do that! Blues and jazz are intertwined; you can’t separate one from the other. It’s just different flavors. It all comes from the same place. You’re playing, you’re creating music every time you play.”
Absolutely. I remember the John Mayall Jazz Blues Fusion. That was one of his bands, that combined the two together. I was very excited when John Mayall recorded one of my songs. I was super-stoked because I grew up listening to him as well.
B.B. King said that every great artist, or every great musician has at least one influence that you wouldn’t guess. The person interviewing him asked, ‘Who would yours be?’ and he said Django Reinhardt. Nobody would think that B.B. King would be a Reinhardt fan, but he was.
I think everyone is a Django Reinhardt fan.
Or should be. Yeah.
Just out of curiosity, do you also listen to Grant Green?
Absolutely! I’ve got a bunch of Grant Green records.
Is that not the greatest? I love his stuff.
Yeah, I love Grant Green. I was close to Little Milton. We were really good friends the last few years before he passed. When we recorded together, he played this one lick that was a little that was outside of his normal repertoire. We were talking about it and he said, ‘Yeah. Grant Green showed me that.’ He had got to be friends with Grant.
Music. Everybody touches everybody, and some more than others obviously. It’s all out there to learn from and to love and to share. Anytime someone shuts their ears to any genre of music, they’re doing themselves a disservice, you know?
Indeed! You’ve done so much, you’ve had a stellar career. You’ve record and performed with anybody that is anybody. Given that, what is one of your favorite memories, or something that was really special, to you personally?
There’s so many. As you said, I’ve been very fortunate and very lucky to have had the opportunities and experiences that I’ve had. One that sticks out was this tribute to John Lee Hooker that we did at Madison Square Garden somewhere around 1990 or something. Myself, Gregg Allman, and Allan Woody were there from the Allman Brothers. Of course Johnny Winter, Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, and some of the guys from Little Feat. Robert Cray was there, and Bo Diddley.
Being onstage with Willie Dixon and John Lee Hooker, at the same time, was a huge thrill for me. We all played “Boogie Chillin'” in the finale, and on guitar were myself, Johnny Winter, Bonnie Raitt, Roy Rogers, Paul Barrere, and nobody would play a solo. We were all in awe of the moment and just kind of there for Hooker. I remember looking around and nobody had it in their mind that they wanted to play a solo. We all were just glad to be part of the moment.
It was wonderful. Joe Cocker was there. Mick Fleetwood was running around banging a snare drum. Seeing Albert Collins and Bo Diddley onstage together, and stuff like that; it was just an amazing night!
What do you think is your greatest accomplishment with music?
I think probably the fact that I’ve been able to do exactly what I love to do, and get away with it without compromise. That’s probably my biggest accomplishment.
Thanks for taking time with us.
My pleasure – enjoyed it.